The open world genre of gaming has seen quite a lot of titles being released in the past few years. Most of the time when franchises make their games open world, it is to artificially inflate the size of the game and the amount of replayability. Does this necessarily equate to an overall positive and enjoyable experience, or a boring and grindy mess that surmounts to an unenjoyable chore?
When Guerrilla Games first announced Horizon Zero Dawn, they also said the game would be open world. Many people feared that a developer that focused on first person linear shooters might fall into the trap of making a conventional open world, with generic tropes such as fetch quests and non-interesting side missions. Well, Horizon Zero Dawn is here, and it’s time to decide! Does it forge its own path in the open world genre, or succumb to following the same mistakes countless other open world games have committed?
Thankfully, Horizon Zero Dawn has made exploration and gameplay in an open world a very delightful experience. With stunning environments to explore, a vast array of enemies to fight, compelling side missions, an interesting and unique story, and a charming and charismatic main protagonist, Guerrilla Games have crafted their best game since Killzone 2!
Developed by: Guerrilla Games
Published by: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Release date: Febuary 28th, 2017
Platforms: PS4 (Reviewed on PS4)
Price at time of review: 60 USD
Horizon Zero Dawn Features
- Explore a vibrant landscape rich with the beauty of nature.
- Engage in a deep, rewarding role-playing experience that involves highly varied tactical combat.
- Horizon Zero Dawn offers a thrilling combat system that allows you to survive against overwhelming odds.
- For Horizon Zero Dawn’s heroine, Guerrilla has created a fully realized character every bit as strong and versatile as she is relatable.
Story & Setting
Horizon Zero Dawn takes place in a near future post-apocalyptic world, where machines have taken over Earth, and humanity is at the brink of extinction. Humans are no longer the masters of the world, and have to live in fear from the machines that roam the land. Humanity has been reduced to primitive and tribal living standards. By hunting and destroying different types of machines and gathering resources from them, we have learned to survive and have adjusted to a new way of life. Humans have only a basic understanding of the current state of affairs, and have no access to their ancestor’s knowledge and resources.
The world itself is in a state of decay, with vegetation overgrowth everywhere, massive structures left in ruins, and dangerous machines prowling the lands consuming all biomass. The setting is quite unique as while there are advanced robotic machines all over the world, humans have adopted the usage of primitive gear such as bow and arrows, slings, spears, and an assortment of items that can be salvaged from machines. Settlements and cities are small and far apart as it fits the theme of isolation and the idea of human extinction. Humans live in shacks, stone houses, and wooden houses, and sometimes in the ruins of our ancestors. When exploring the world you get a true sense of being in the wild, as the atmosphere and environments truly elevate that feeling. You’ll be travelling through a wide array of locations that feature grassy plains, lush jungles, snowy mountains, sandy deserts, and rocky canyons. The open world is a character of its own, as a lot of attention to detail has gone into crafting a believable and dynamic world.
The story revolves around Aloy, who from birth has been branded as an Outcast. You follow her journey that revolves around finding the secrets of her origin, and also to uncover the secrets of the world. While following her journey, you will meet several unique characters, uncover many secrets that relate to the state of the world, and most importantly you find out about the origins of the machines themselves. The story is expertly crafted and finely told, with the right pacing so it doesn’t feel like the game is dragging. You can tell that Guerilla Games have taken their time with this game, as the game takes ample time to set up the story in a coherent manner. The main story can take anywhere from 15-25 hours, with an additional 30 hours to do everything in the game.
Although you may want to rush through the main story due to its compelling nature, I highly suggest doing all the side content in the game. Many of the side missions features some of the best stories, and the quality of these missions are on par with the Witcher 3. While many may involve the generic mission formula, where you many have to go fetch stuff or kill more enemies, the story being presented adds to the overall story experience. All the side missions in the game help craft the story of the overall world that these characters live in, which in turn makes you want to explore this finely crafted open world.
While the game does deliver a full-fledged story and Aloy’s quest is fully realized and answered, there are still a few unanswered questions that seem to leave a door open for sequels. Aloy herself is a very charming, charismatic, strong, and independent character who don’t need no man and will probably be Sony’s next huge mascot. Her inquisitive nature and mystery surrounding her origins makes it easy to want to follow her quest. Many times in main missions and side missions, you will be given dialogue options which give you the opportunity to mold the personality of Aloy. You can be a caring person, a smart person who is neutral, or just a cold hearted person who only cares about yourself. Depending on how you answer these dialogue options, the characters in the game may view Aloy in a different way. Overall, it doesn’t really affect the game in a huge way except for the final mission. The ending you get is still the same, but whether these characters want to help you in your quest is determined by how you interact with them.
The campaign is solid, and is probably one of the best stories told by Guerilla Games. The story moves along at a steady pace, and by the end of it, you aren’t disappointed with what the story culminates to. That’s always a bonus. With such an interesting and witty character, you won’t be bored while playing and that’s a rare thing to say about a game that could take 40-50 hours to experience all of what it has to offer.
Visual & Audio
It has to be said that the visuals in HZD are among the best that’s come to consoles. This might be the best looking console game at the moment. The characters, enemies, environments, and the architecture in this game look stunning. For an open world game to look this amazing, and still maintain a consistent 30 fps is a technical achievement on its own. The Decima engine that Guerilla Games have created might be the benchmark for new open world games to match in terms of quality. Another thing that needs to be pointed out is that the regions in the game are not cordoned off from region to region. The entire open world can be explored at one go if you choose to. The dynamic weather and particle effects are also noteworthy, as sandstorms, snow, and rain look splendid when they do occur randomly.
A lot of attention to detail also has been given to Aloy and the other major side characters, and the enemies as well. Each machine enemy looks different to others, and have been designed and rendered exceptionally in the game. The amount of detail that has gone into every tiny movable part in these machine enemies is simply astounding. Character movement is also smooth, along with in game animations of Aloy and the enemies.
While there are many impressive visual aspects of this game that need to be applauded, there are a few small issues to report. Sometimes when more than one large enemy type is on screen, there will be a few frame rate drops. Although this is rare, it still needs to be mentioned. The water in this game doesn’t look the best. When everything else looks so realistic, the water can look very jarring and can lead to a disjointed visual experience. Lastly, while the foliage in this game looks really impressive, Aloy clips through them. This can be immersion breaking, as you’ll be doing a lot of stealth in the game. Many times you’ll be hiding in grass, and suddenly you’ll notice 2-3 grass strands will be sticking out of Aloy’s head. These are small nitpicks in an otherwise exceptional looking game, but are noticeable nonetheless.
This was played on a base PS4, but we have seen gameplay on a PS4 pro and in 4K. It gives a higher resolution along with a rich visual experience. If you have a 4K display, you need to play this game on it!
The sound design in this game is also something to be praised. Ashly Burch has done a remarkable job to provide the voice acting for Aloy and bringing her to life. Other side characters do a fine job as well. The only problem I encountered is the stiff facial animations and dialogue delivery when outside of cut scenes. The game’s audio design really shines in the open world and with enemy designs. The trickling of water, rustling of foliage due to wind, the violent snow storms and sandstorm, and sounds of animals in the wild all create an atmosphere of truly being in the wild and in isolation.
During combat the whizzes of arrows, explosions of bombs, and the impact of your melee attacks all have great audio feedback, which lends to the believability of the intense fights you’ll be having. The movement and sounds of many machine enemies also sends fear down your spine, and are the highlight of the game. When using headphones, you can tell when enemies will attack and from which direction just by listening to the sounds they make. The music also elevates the ambiance of the game, and adds emotion during important moments. The OST suits the game, and overall the audio in this game is done very well.
The game has quite a compelling narrative, amazing visuals, and great audio design, but, how’s the gameplay of the game? Is it any good? I can say without a doubt that it’s awesome and engaging.
Aloy will be fighting machine enemies 80% of the time and humans the rest of the time. She has access to many different types of weapons, equipment, and resources to aid her during combat. There are 3 different types of Bows (for different types of arrows), a Tripcaster class (for setting traps), a Ropecaster class (for tying enemies down), a Sling class (for elemental bombs), and a Rattler class (mini gun). Each weapon has its uses, and alongside weapons, Aloy also has access to separate traps that can be crafted. She can heal by using berries that can be picked up from the world, and also by using potions that can be bought, looted, or crafted. Other potions include extra effects such as resistance to freezing, burning, and shock for a limited time. There is also a potion to extend your health bar past your maximum for a sometime, which is extremely useful during combat against multiple enemies.
Her weapons can be upgraded to do more damage, use extra types of ammo, and allows the use of extra modification coils (can be found by looting enemies). The same goes for armor that can be worn in the game.
Combat involves the use of third person shooting, along with some basic melee using Aloy’s spear. There is no hip firing and no conventional cover system, so you’ll be dodging a lot. You’ll also be going into focus for more precision shots, which is an extremely useful ability when you want to either remove components of enemies or to do massive amounts of damage with precise shots.
Every machine enemy you come across has different weaknesses. This may range from shooting a weak point, to shooting off a component that stun them, or using a specific element they are weak to. The unique thing about fighting machine enemies, is that each one has several different components that can be damaged or torn off to render them useless. Destroying or tearing these components can give you the edge in battle. For example, Ravagers are large combat machines that are quite lethal at close range as they tend to jump at you. So naturally you’ll want to space yourself to get some breathing room. The Ravager will adapt to the situation and start shooting you with its machine gun. When you run away and try to hide in tall grass, it will try to scan for you using it’s scanner on its back. Like this there are many different types of components each machine possess. Tallnecks, for example are mobile synchronization points, and getting to the top is a mini challenge of its own.
Every time you encounter a new enemy and scan them, their entries get added to your notebook. All the machine’s weaknesses and strengths will be listed here, so it’s beneficial to read them to get a better understanding of them. Early in the game, you’re told to respect the power of these machines or you’ll end up dead. This is very true as with knowledge you’ve already won half the battle before it even starts. You also have the ability to override machines to make them your allies temporarily (and with upgrades, they can be permanent). At the start you can only override minor enemies, but later on you can get the ability to override all types of machines by exploring side dungeons called Cauldrons. Cauldrons are unique areas that look nothing like the outside world, and feature advanced technology. They usually culminate with a battle with a large machine enemy, in order to receive your upgrade.
You can also deal with enemies stealthily, by hiding in bushes and taking them out quietly with a sneak attack. There is so much flexibility in the combat of this game that it truly is a joy to experiment with different weapons on different enemy types.
You’ll also face human enemies but unlike the superior machine enemy AI, human AI is quite poor. They’ll either stand really far away and get sniped by you, or will charge to do a melee attack. I have not encountered humans to do anything really unique like the other robotic enemies.
When you’re not in combat, you’ll be exploring the vast world and finding its secrets. There are many collectibles in this game including metal flowers, ancient vessels, vantage datapoints, and Banuk figures. These are quite important as they can be traded to the right merchant for loot boxes that contain resources and sometimes weapons and modifications. Some side quests also involve you to solve mysteries by using you focus ability to track humans and enemies. These extra additions to the game are appreciated as it helps to vary the gameplay a bit.
There are rpg elements in this game including leveling, crafting, looting, and investing skill points to upgrading your skills. There are many skills that give combat bonuses, looting bonuses, and other extras that help with the overall gameplay. Higher level skills become really useful late in the game. You need skill points to buy your upgrades, and they can be obtained by leveling up and finishing specific side missions. It’s not the deepest RPG but it’s all done in a neat and tidy package.
The one thing that might be bothersome is the climbing. The climbing mechanics in the game are functional, but like most linear games you can only climb on pre-specified ledges. This hinders the ability to fully explore high areas, as sometimes you’ll have to run around the other side of a canyon, mountain or building to get to ledge you can grab onto. Many times Aloy has detection problems, where she will not grab onto the ledge leading to frustrating moments where you are fighting with the climbing mechanics. While other recent open world games have moved on to the ability to climb most things, HZD takes a step back with this mechanic. This is very noticeable as the world is so filled with detail, you want to explore but are limited in what you can climb. This seems like a missed opportunity in many ways. Hopefully this mechanic gets upgraded in the sequel.